Forgive us our debts: a Catholic priest writes…

The note below arrived in my e-mail tonight.   It sheds more light on what many priests — and the people they serve — are living with these days.  Dcn. G.


In response to this post on finances, I would like to share a few things. In my diocese – Midwest – we can be reimbursed for mileage, but it is more beneficial to claim mileage on our income tax forms. Stipends – they are becoming fewer and fewer given the rising cost of living. We are all experiencing it across the board.

Regarding expenses – five years ago, I bit the bullet and tithed. Once a month I write a check to the Sunday collection – calculations indicate 10% of my gross income goes directly to the church – on top of my three year pledge to our capital campaign, along with contributing 5K every year to my Roth IRA. About five months ago the priests in my diocese were told that the priests’ retirement fund took such a severe hit in 2008/2009, by the time I’m able to retire (which I joking say will be behind the altar running six parishes at the age of 85 – holy beseech thee O, Lord!) there may not be enough for the all of the priests. My parish uses the retired guys for penance services. Immediately after this news came out, I asked one of them if they have enough to retire/live on…his response was telling…”Yes, as long as I continue to help out every day filling in here and there, hearing confessions and covering for guys.”

Many of your bloggers are right – some priests get everything paid for – vacations – clothes etc. There is no norm for this sort of stuff…and honestly, when a kindness comes my way I keep it to myself because I don’t want to offend another priest. After all, there is already a ton of pressure on some of these men…let’s not pit one against one another.

My concern, financially, isn’t for me at the moment, but my parents. As I said, I’ll die behind the altar as the church kills us. (I have great joy in my priesthood; just keeping it real.) They’ve done everything right – each sibling Catholic education (12 years each times 3 kids), worked hard, stay at home mom, etc. Dad did his best – 77 years old – but lost his job not once, but twice. College educated – and now, because of investments, and the mishaps of losing his job, I’m very worried. And many of my friends (parishioners who are my age – I’m 45) and high school friends share similar stories about their parents. I suspect, several of your readers could relate too. Now, as a pastor of parish of 8,000 people/2400 households – I’m thinking how can I earn extra money to help them? What extra part-time job can I take on?

After reading through all of the answers, it isn’t about me being financial well-off; the church will take care of me. It is more about, at this point in my life, trying to make sure the people I love the most, my parents who fostered this vocation, can have some greater sense peace in their life.


  1. Mark Greta says:

    This brings a few things to mind. One is that we are going to see a lot of elderly people who are arriving at retirement age without enough money to pay bills and live and it is going to explode. The devastation to main street that continues to this day is a major untold story to its full dimensions and I think a lot more devastation is on our doorstep. This priest discussion of people his age about their parents in happening more and more each day. The priest has little they can do to help, but that is true of many others in our society where the children of these elderly are fighting to make ends meet themselves with ever increasing prices.

    The second thing that comes to mind is that over the years, my wife Greta and I have taken on many priests to help them with their needs. If they need a car, we give them one. If they have some personal issues that have caused problems, we have taken care of those issues. I would urge those who have resources to help, have a quiet sit down with a priest or two and let them know that you are there if needed and that it will be kept private. I don’t even know the number we have helped because we have gained so much from them on the spiritual journey. So as this priest states, “when a kindness comes my way I keep it to myself because I don’t want to offend another priest,” I know full well of what he speaks. Find a priest or two and help them in their mission in this small way.

  2. I am so glad I read this. Just when I had started to get into my head from that priest in debt story that priests were living semi posh lives, I needed this to bring me back to reality. They are certainly living below the typical middle class person. God bless them.

  3. Catherine says:

    I knew that religious orders were having trouble caring for the aging members, but I had no idea that parish priests were in such dire straits. This is a frightening situation.

  4. Win Nelson says:

    Deacon Greg, sometimes a family has to open a difficult discussion. Would or wouldn’t it be a good idea for parents and adult children to live in one home?

    Sometimes, this may turn out to be the right answer, but if so, please let it be because the adult children really want their parents there. Please do not let it be because someone is worried or feels the duty, but with deep examination of his or her heart, finds this solution a chore or wearisome. Even when parents are older, even when someone cannot do what he or she once could, there needs to be a partnership, not one feeling as if there is something owed.

    That’s a decision we made 8 years ago and it has been wonderful for us.

    Some months ago, we met another parishioner at a parish and she and her husband had done the same thing. She was older and her parents are now gone, but she smiled when she said that she would have done it again in a heartbeat, because they enjoyed each other’s company so much.

    But again, every situation is different.

    If and only if that is a decision that would work for parents and adult children, I can give two pieces of advice. One is to move while the parents are still able to move (meaning packing, sorting, unpacking, new environment, etc.). Every person is different, but there comes an age when someone will not be able to endure the stress (emotional and physical).

    The other piece of advice is to look for a new place for everyone to move into, so that no one has resentment that someone is taking over someone’s space or is beholden to someone.

  5. I have a recurring “dream” of building a continuing care Emmaus Village to care/give peace to the elderly…even if the rooms were dorm-sized, it would afford more dignity than many have in store for themselves what with the economy and the iffy stock market…suggestions, anyone?

  6. My Pastor is currently paying college and high school tuition for all of his nieces and nephews in Africa…he supports at least 6 or 7 at a time. He flies back to Africa once every other year at the cost of nearly $3000. Our parish is not permitted to help, according to Diocesan rules. He also has exorbitant costs for medical and dental because our Diocesan insurance is so lousy…and he has to pay all his own costs for his car. He only gets mileage if he’s on parish duty. It’s very sad that we have missionaries who serve us as priests because we don’t have sufficient vocations here in the US…and then, they are paid so little. He makes about $1500 a month- but he’s not permitted to take stipends other than a tiny stipend for a daily Mass by our guidelines.

  7. It would help everybody to know that every diocese is an island. Some have well-funded priest pension plans, some don’t. Some have more generous salaries, some don’t. Some have effective policies regarding handling the collection (thank God, my diocese does!), some don’t. We Catholics are used to the pattern of neighboring parishes being very different: not so apparent to the laity, but the same disparities exist between dioceses. This involves far more than finances: the Crisis and liturgical shenanigans all have diocesan flavors to them. I just happen to think that localized financial misconduct and generalized priest cluelessness about the value of money (amplified now by the large international priest population in the US) are going to be the next big crisises to hit the Catholic Church in this country. Of course, I’ve been predicting this for a half dozen years in vain, so perhaps it won’t be so soon before it hits your local paper…

  8. “I just happen to think that localized financial misconduct and generalized priest cluelessness about the value of money …. are going to be the next big crisises to hit the Catholic Church in this country.” Already happened, in localities near all of us. Only it’s not usually a big deal for the “Catholic Church in America” because most of the time it is a smaller-scale local thing; stirs up a big mess for the parish it happens in, and for the bishop who has to deal with it. But it’s not on the big radar screen; at least yet. Unfortunately it is a cause of scandal and loss of confidence in the Church for those whom it affects; it’s another negative bucket of water in the ocean which is the Church. I agree that effective policies for handling collections, and other funds, can head off a lot of problems before they start.

  9. Jack B. Nimble says:

    The missive from the priest mentioned his concerns about his elderly parents. Tell me about it. It is or will soon be the biggest concern in many Baby Boomer’s lives. Sure, in some families the male siblings will be lucky enough to have the saintly female sibling who will take on the job of arranging for “mom and dad”. But try paying for skilled nursing care when you are not affluent and merely middle-class. If your parent is not so far gone as to need a nursing home, do you realize that assisted living is almost always out of pocket, and not covered by Medicaid? But try to suggest that people of good will and Christian values can do better by our elderly and not practice social Darwinism, and boy oh boy, you’re tagged as a wild socialist. I don’t have the answer, but we need to have a solid and charitable discussion crossing denominational lines, with less demonizing about the role of taxpayer supported programs.

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